Bucket lists, quests, and meaning in life

In communicating with a colleague of mine about a work-related matter the other day (I know I’m retired, don’t ask!), I came to learn that she was in Las Vegas for a long weekend with her 88-year old mother, because her mother wanted to see both a Celine Dion show and the Grand Canyon. I can’t think of a better use of time and money, to help a loved one complete their bucket list and to create lasting shared memories at the same time.

South Rim of the Grand Canyon, a popular bucket list item and for good reason!

Another friend of mine, a former student and successful local entrepreneur, is in the middle of a charity quest that he and a friend of his have undertaken, a quest they’ve called the Long Long Walk. They plan to spend June 10-16 walking along the Saint John River from Edmundston, New Brunswick to my home base of Fredericton, a distance of about 275 kms (170 miles), hoping to raise $100,000 for a local charity that supports victims of domestic violence. They have held pre-walk events, social media blitzes, and charm offenses to local businesses; their return celebration will be held at the popular Fredericton Market, where hopefully they can sit down with their feet in basins of warm water while they attempt to convince the crowd to help them make or surpass their $100,000 target. [These two completed a previous quest where they spent a week camped on the top of a truck to raise $70,000 for the local food banks, the Raise the Roof over Hunger! campaign.]

Route of the Long Long Walk, June 10-16

Aside from feeling proud to know these two, both in their 40s and so with lots and lots of time to tick more items off buckets lists and quests, their actions got me thinking further about related messages in two books I’ve read recently, The Happiness of Pursuit by Chris Guillebeau and The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson. You won’t be surprised to learn that I gravitated to these two library books because of their titles! And I will admit to having skimmed them more than read them carefully, especially the engagingly titled The Subtle Art of… These authors, young themselves, were definitely speaking to a much younger demographic than that in which I find myself a member, and although many life experiences (and vocabulary) transcend the generations, that wasn’t so much the case in The Subtle Art of … However, the messages being conveyed are worth consideration for all ages.

As a title, “the happiness of pursuit” speaks to me. Before opening the cover, I imagined anecdotes that reinforce the adage that life is about the journey, not the destination. Of course, that’s not exactly what the book is about. It’s about how we can find satisfaction in life – and happiness – through pursuing lifelong (or shorter) goals, often in the form of bucket lists or long-term quests. The author wrote this book shortly after completing his own first big quest, to have visited all 193 countries in the world by the age of 35. Now that’s a quest. Not for everyone, but a great example of what he means by a quest. It has to be something that really, really calls to you, something that you realize is important enough to you that it’s worth sacrificing others things for, something whose next step keeps calling your name. Examples were pretty wide-ranging, from quitting your job to pursue your passion (photography, volunteering overseas, etc.) to running a marathon for the first time. One woman decided to have her family travel the world through cooking, by researching, cooking, and serving a menu from a different country each and every week for 193 weeks. It’s all up to the quest-seeker!

Guillebeau’s book is a manual for choosing and completing a quest: developing a schedule you stick to, dealing with setbacks, keeping your motivation, and handling the feeling of deflation after the euphoria of completion wears off. Plenty of food for thought, even when only skimming. Hmm, what would I really like to do/work on/learn/accomplish/share that I need a kick in the butt to start?

Bucket lists have taken on a life of their own in recent years. The term itself became popular after the movie of the same name came out, and it is typically thought of as a list of things you want to do before you die. Travel companies have embraced this as being synonymous with places you’d like to visit before you die, preferably using their services. But it can be far more than just travel: for example, seeing close friends you haven’t seen for far too long, making a memory quilt with your granddaughter, learning to paint, learning a new sport, or volunteering for an organization you’ve always admired. The possibilities are as varied as the people who make the lists.

Some of my reading made me realize that bucket lists have expanded from “what I want to do before I die” to “what I want to do before I’m 30”, then before I’m 40, and so on. For most of us, the opportunities to start too many new bucket list items slow down considerably if and when we start to have children, at least for several years. But the idea that our lists are still there waiting for us is encouraging. And something to keep in mind is that another way of thinking about bucket lists is that they are about what you want to accomplish during your lifetime; that’s a bit of a different connotation than what you want to do before you die. And the memories you make while ticking off your items, especially if you share them with friends and family, are what provide the most lasting value.

Now, how does the book with the unforgettable title “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck” fit into this theme of bucket lists and quests? Well, from the HarperCollins Canada online overview of the book:

“Manson advises us to get to know our limitations and accept them. Once we embrace our fears, faults, and uncertainties, once we stop running and avoiding and start confronting painful truths, we can begin to find the courage, perseverance, honesty, responsibility, curiosity, and forgiveness we seek.

There are only so many things we can give a f**k about so we need to figure out which ones really matter, Manson makes clear. While money is nice, caring about what you do with your life is better, because true wealth is about experience. A much-needed grab-you-by-the-shoulders-and-look-you-in-the-eye moment of real-talk, filled with entertaining stories and profane, ruthless humor…”

So, although the real-talk, the entertaining stories and profane, ruthless humor mentioned in this review definitely didn’t resonate with a grandmother who’s 70+, the underlying message of caring about what you do with your life and taking responsibility for the decisions you make in that regard is a hugely important take-away for all ages. And, besides, how could anyone not be attracted by the title?! 😉

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11 Responses to Bucket lists, quests, and meaning in life

  1. Pingback: My home town makes national and international news, for the worst possible reason | Robby Robin's Journey

  2. Eric says:

    “The Happiness of Pursuit”! I haven’t read the book, but the title alone and your comments about it here are enough to stop and really ponder the idea. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Pingback: Choosing to be happy | Robby Robin's Journey

  4. Alison says:

    I did not care for the Subtle Art book. I finished it though. I always do. Will have to check into the other.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      I’m impressed. As much as I liked the title and the underlying message, I just couldn’t keep reading it. I think I’m relatively with it, certainly among my age group, but that book really reminded me of just how different the worldview can be for much younger people. I need that reminder every once in a while, but that doesn’t mean I need to read the whole book! 😉

      The Happiness of Pursuit was much easier going. I’m working on what my quest will be ! 🙂

      • Alison says:

        There’s a lot of theorizing today about the rise in suicides and the fact that many people lose their quest in life so it’s easier to end it. Not sure I agree but having a quest has got to be healthier than ambling away the days.

        • Jane Fritz says:

          What a tough, tough problem. In many of those cases, mental illness is the culprit and we as a society have far to go in recognizing and respecting mental illness as exactly that -an illness – and providing the “space” for people suffering from depression, etc to be able to be open about it and treated the same way as someone with high blood pressure or diabetes. But in the pursuit of happiness, I do agree with the first book’s title; the real happiness, or satisfaction, in life is found in the pursuit of something that’s meaningful to you. That book does provide some useful direction in that regard.

  5. alesiablogs says:

    I too have glossed over both these books. They both resonated with me and where I am at in my life. I have had a motto in regards to vacations that some do not understand. I prefer trips with family and friends and could care less about being busy sightseeing. Maybe it’s because I have seen so much already of the world that interests me. By far I prefer relationship journeys over anything.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      I agree, Alesia (although doing both together is good!). We’re both privileged to have traveled widely, so we can concentrate on making new memories with people who are important to us.

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